Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, when traditions were vastly different than today, and people had fewer choices, there was a farmer and an old money-lender. Because of poor farming conditions, the farmer had amassed a significant debt. It seemed like he would never be able to pay it back. Then, the crops failed again and he had barely enough to feed his family.
The money-lender showed up to collect the interest on the loan and saw that the farmer didn’t have anything. The rotten money-lender knew the farmer was out of options. He saw one of the farmer’s unmarried daughters, and said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you an opportunity to wipe out your debt.”
The farmer was interested.
The money-lender smiled a lecherous grin. “I’ll put two pebbles from this path into a bag, and let your daughter draw one out. If she picks a white pebble, I will forgive your debt. If she picks a black pebble, I will still forgive your debt but I get to marry her.”
The farmer’s daughter heard the conversation and walked over, along with her mother and siblings.
The farmer stood frozen. He stood frozen. He had no other choices, so he agreed. His daughter’s blood ran cold. Then, she noticed the money-lender picked up two black pebbles and put them in the bag. He turned to her, smiled again, and said, “Pick your future.”
What could she do? No matter which stone she picked, she would be stuck in this loveless marriage, trapped with this awful man. Her father’s eyes teared up and his downtrodden face seemed to say, “I’m sorry.”
She reached in the bag and felt each pebble. She withdrew one and dropped on the stony path.
She gasped, “Oh! Silly me. I’ve dropped the pebble. Well, check the other one and we can know what color I picked.”
The money-lender dumped the black pebble into his hand. The farmer saw it and cheered, “She chose the white pebble! My debt is forgiven and she is still free!”
The young lady’s cleverness overcame deceptiveness. The money-lender knew the remaining black pebble indicated to everyone that she must have picked the white pebble. If he said otherwise, he would be admitting his lie. He turned and walked away
Of course, we don’t live in a time of arranged marriages. People have agency and can make their own decisions.
This story has a number of different versions from around the world. In each case, there’s a power-disparity. One person seems to hold all of the cards. The other characters have no choices, and an unfortunate or even unthinkable outcome seems like the only possibility. But, that’s the thing with possibilities. They are the things that may happen or may be the case. They are not certainties.
Sometimes we look at our lives or the world around us and mistake possibilities for certainties. In Isaiah, we read about hope for the future. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (9.2). Embracing possibilities isn’t some Pollyanna-like view of the world, where we go around like a cockeyed optimist. It’s distinguishing between what may happen and what will happen.
Today, many people face difficult decisions. We can feel like the young woman who saw the two pebbles were the same color and no matter what we choose, it’s going to be a bad outcome. Never underestimate the cleverness of the God who created you and walks through each day with you. It doesn’t mean we won’t face difficulties. It means whatever darkness we face, there will be light again. There is hope.